The pros and cons of steam cooking are numerous, so every cook needs to consider these issues before choosing steaming as a cooking method. Steam cooking is traditional in many cultures and is often valued for its ability to cook delicate foods so that they do not fall apart, to maintain the color of various foods, and to preserve the nutrients of a food during the cooking process. Many cooks also like steaming because it does not require the addition of fat, and food can become steam-impregnated with the flavor of herbs and spices added during the cooking process. On the other hand, there is a danger of being burned by steam, and some people prefer the flavor that oils and fats can add to foods and may miss the ability to brown foods during the cooking process.
Many people advocate steam cooking, as it is considered to be a healthy food preparation method. Unlike frying or sautéeing, steaming does not add calories to food. Some steam cooking advocates also point out that because the food is not immersed in water, vital nutrients are not leached out from the food during the cooking process. This means that more valuable nutrients are consumed along with the food. Steam cooking also does not substantially alter the appearance of food by causing browning or the fading of vibrant colors. Vegetables prepared in a steam cooker often retain the appearance of fresh vegetables, which can make for much more appealing plate.
On the other hand, steam cooking has its detractors. Steam can cause serious burns, and because steam quickly dissipates from a container, those who are not careful may end up burning themselves while engaging in this type of cooking or removing food from a steamer. Furthermore, because browning is not possible during steaming, some foods, such as meat, may not have an appealing appearance after being prepared in a steamer. In addition, the browning process can often add significant flavor and texture to foods that may be missed by those who eat steam-prepared meals.
One significant advantage to steam cooking is that the method itself doesn't generally require a whole lot of special equipment. While steam cookers and steam ovens are certainly available, steaming can take place using a simple steam basket, which typically costs very little. This means that cooks do not have to invest a lot of money in special equipment and can pick and choose which foods will taste and look best when prepared by this method.